Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reflections on the Debate (Philadelphia)- no. 1

I'm sure you've heard this before: speculation before the Democratic Presidential debate centered on whether front-runner Hillary Clinton would be forcefully challenged by the other candidates, especially Barack Obama. (A.B. Stoddard of commented earlier in the day that the Illinois Senator "wants to protect the Obama brand.")

As all know by now, it happened, though Obama was still a little timid compared to Dodd and Edwards. Here is the transcript, courtesy of, of the exchange on the issue of illegal immigration (comments following), raised by co-host Tim Russert.

Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. He told the Nashua, New Hampshire, Editorial Board it makes a lot of sense.

Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver’s license?

CLINTON: Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It’s probability.

So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum. I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform.

RUSSERT: Does anyone here believe an illegal immigrant should not have a driver’s license?

(UNKNOWN): Believe what?

RUSSERT: An illegal immigrant should not have a driver’s license.

DODD: This is a privilege. And, look, I’m as forthright and progressive on immigration policy as anyone here. But we’re dealing with a serious problem here, we need to have people come forward. The idea that we’re going to extend this privilege here of a driver’s license I think is troublesome, and I think the American people are reacting to it.

We need to deal with security on our borders. We need to deal with the attraction that draws people here. We need to deal fairly with those who are here.

But this is a privilege. Talk about health care, I have a different opinion. That affects the public health of all of us.

But a license is a privilege, and that ought not to be extended, in my view.

CLINTON: Well, I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do...

(UNKNOWN): Wait a minute...

CLINTON: And we have failed. We have failed.

DODD: No, no, no. You said—you said yes...


DODD: ... you thought it made sense to do it.

CLINTON: No, I didn’t, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are driving...

DODD: That’s a legitimate issue. But driver’s license goes too far, in my view.

CLINTON: Well, you may say that, but what is the identification?

If somebody runs into you today who is an undocumented worker...

DODD: There’s ways of dealing with that.

CLINTON: Well...

DODD: This is a privilege, not a right.

CLINTON: Well, what Governor Spitzer has agreed to do is to have three different licenses, one that provides identification for actually going onto airplanes and other kinds of security issues, another which is another ordinary driver’s license, and then a special card that identifies the people who would be on the road, so...

DODD: That’s a bureaucratic nightmare.

CLINTON: ... it’s not the full privilege.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure of what I heard. Do you, the New York senator, Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor’s plan to give illegal immigrants a driver’s license?

You told the New Hampshire paper that it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?

CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays “gotcha.” It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problems. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows.

He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.

Senator Clinton is wrong on several counts:

1)This was not a "gotcha-question" ("gotcha question" in the HRC Dictionary of the English Language, 1st edition: "question I'm going to have to answer.") Not only is illegal immigration an important issue, Mrs. Clinton had to have known, or at least suspected, that she would be asked a question about a hot-button issue occurring in her state.

2) She actually stated "I did not say that it should be done" after saying that it should be done- "what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum."

3) Just as the term "illegal alien" is emotionally charged and imprecise (are the aliens from Mars or Venus?) so is the term "undocumented worker" imprecise and misleading. There are two kinds of people, men and women; two races dominant in American life, white and black (not white and "colored" and not white and "Negro"); and there are two kinds of immigrants: legal and illegal.

4) The New York Senator is wrong on the issue. Giving illegal immigrants- from Mexico or Canada- a driver's license presents a security challenge, as Dodd hinted at. With Dodd noting (as I thought was settled principle, reflected in law) that possessing a driver's license is a "privilege, not a right" Clinton argued "but the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are driving..."
Yes, Senator Clinton, with or without a legal license, many illegal immigrants will drive. But that is no reason to give them a license anymore than it is, say, sensible to give individuals convicted of drunk driving a license because we know that many of them drive without a license.

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